Health Workforce Australia report gives the nod to physician assistants
A plan to introduce some physician assistants to the country’s health system has Australian Medical Association president Rosanna Capolingua very upsetabout patient safety, of course. THE head of Australia’s peak medical body has criticised a plan to introduce US-style physicians’ assistants who would carry out less complex medical procedures, saying it puts patients at greater risk and could deny junior doctors training opportunities. Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson yesterday released the five sites for a pilot program to train doctors’ assistants, who would perform the procedures under the guidance of a qualified doctor. The pilot is based on a scheme developed in the US and has been trialled in countries including Canada and Britain. Australian Medical Association president Rosanna Capolingua said that, although assistants would work under a doctor’s supervision at all times, their use in surgical procedures could compromise patient safety. “The physician’s assistant understands how to do the task and they may be useful as a ‘tool’ but, for our own junior doctors, they need to have that holistic training and experience as well,” she said. “Patient safety must always be our first priority, not just the delivery of a service to a patient.” Doesn’t sound like Dr. Capolingua is going tomake a great teammate. The nurses aren’t thrilled, either. Beth Mohle from the Queensland Nurses Union said the Government should spend the money expanding the role of existing nursing staff. “They’re not actually testing physicians’ assistants against positions like nurse practitioners,” she said.
The report clearly outlines positive impact that the physician assistant will have on the Australian health workforce and the overwhelming support of the rural and remote health sector. To date, most opposition to the Physician Assistant role has been based on a poor understanding of this model of healthcare, which this report confirms. The contents of the report provide a clear and detailed description of the role of Physician Assistant, which should lead to a greater understanding of the position. So, what is the next step? Well the next step is in fact already happening and as can be seen from the recent events in Tasmania, there is a desire in some states to commence the introduction of a Physician Assistant. Whilst the work being conducted in individual Australian states should continue, the Physician Assistant should also be considered at the national level. This report echoes the sentiments of the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM) that the profession should be registered nationally under AHPRA, and likely administered by the Australian Medical Board. With much of the professional registration requirements having already been developed and the professional oversight of ACRRM ensuring the validity of Physician Assistant education and continuing professional development programs, national registration can be commenced almost immediately. There are at present over 30 Australian Physician Assistant graduates, with a new cohort of students having commenced this year. As the HWA report identifies, the Physician Assistant will have a positive impact in the health workforce, so now it is time to get started and introduce this new health professional. Ben Stock was a member of the first cohort of Australian Physician Assistants to graduate in 2011.